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Amtrak Route Scrapbooks

Empire Builder

amtk_route_EmpireBuilder The Empire Builder is a daily passenger train operated by Amtrak across the upper midwestern and northwestern United States. By most measures it is Amtrak's busiest and most popular long-distance route, running from Chicago to two major cities in the Pacific Northwest. The westbound train splits into two smaller segments in Spokane, Washington, with the northern segment terminating at King Street Station in Seattle and its southern segment terminating at Union Station in Portland. On June 11, 1929, the Great Northern Railway inaugurated the Empire Builder to honor the company's founder, James J. Hill -- known as "The Empire Builder" for reorganizing several failing railroads into a transcontinental system that reached the Pacific Northwest in the late 19th century. After World War II, the Great Northern placed new streamlined and diesel-powered trains in service that cut the 2,211 miles between Chicago and Seattle from 58.5 hours down to 45 hours. In 1970, the Great Northern merged with other railroads to form the Burlington Northern Railroad, which assumed operation of the Empire Builder. One year later, Amtrak assumed operation of most of the nations' passenger trains and subsequently shifted the Chicago to St. Paul leg of the train to the Milwaukee Road route through Milwaukee. The main segment to and from Seattle is numbered Amtrak 7 and 8, the Portland section is numbered 27 and 28, and a peak-demand coach between Chicago and St. Paul is numbered 807 and 808 when used.
Traveling daily between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest along major portions of the Lewis and Clark trail, the mighty Empire Builder takes you on an exciting adventure through majestic wilderness, following the footsteps of early pioneers. From Chicago, you'll have magnificent views of the Mississippi and see the glowing night skyline of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Awake the next morning as you cross the North Dakota plains and travel over the spectacular Gassman Coulee Trestle. Skirting the Missouri, you'll cross into the Big Sky country in Montana, passing by a travelers favorite, Glacier National Park. From Spokane, you can continue on to Seattle or head down the Columbia River Gorge toward Portland for spectacular views of Mt. Hood and Beacon Rock.



Empire Builder route map / web


Empire Builder timetable / collection


2016 timetable / collection


Spotlight: Havre, Montana

June 2016

d2_havre3When we detrained for 30 minutes in modest Havre, Montana, I kept thinking to myself, "This place seems familiar." As this was my frist trip through the Big Sky state, I knew it was not because I had been to this spot before. Walking to the front of #7 to take some requisite photos of the locomotives -- Havre being the first stop long enough to make the trek to the front end -- it suddenly dawned on my why this whole scene struck a chord: the lights. I knew I had seen those unusual hanging lights before ... in my father's black and white 120 negatives. Dad rode the Empire Builder in 1975 and likewise detrained in Havre, long enough to snap some photos that included an Amtrak SDP45, a Burlington Northern switcher, and what must have been some ex Great Northern baggage and head end cars. Only three photos snapped, but in all three, unique overhead hanging lights. 1975 meant that Amtrak had only been stopping in Havre for 48 months or more. Who knows what sort of secondhand equipment made up the Builder's consist on that trip. By the time of our stop this summer, Amtrak had pulled in under these lights some 16,000+ times -- 40 years later than my dad's one and only visit to Havre. The Great Northern steamer on display was a nice treat, and all the smokers riding with us got a smoke break long enough for me to grab my roster shots of most of the equipment in our movement. Wonder if they'll still be using those overhead bulbs 40 years from now?


Havre, Mt / 1975 / JCH


Havre, Mt / 1975 / JCH


Havre, Mt / 1975 / JCH


Jun 2016 / RWH


Jun 2016 / RWH






Jun 2016 / RWH

Click to see the Havre Amtrak station area plotted on a Google Maps page

Spotlight: Spokane, Wa

June 2016

d2_spokane1 My adventurous 11 year old agreed to wake up with me at 1:30am during our second night onboard #7 to step out onto the platform at Spokane, Washington, to see the crew split the Builder into two smaller sections -- sending #7 on to Seattle while we stayed behind with the new #27 -- a lone P42 and four Superliner cars, including our sleeper on the rear, now headed for Portland, Oregon. I slept through my 1:15am alarm but awoke around 1:30 when I realized the power was off in our sleeper and it was getting warm in our roomette without A/C. I knew this meant that the power was uncoupled from the front and that they were moving rolling stock around outside. Ella and I stepped outside in time to see the time-honored positioning and coupling of the unit to our new consist. A back up move. Couple. Stretch. Air brakes. HEP cables. And with that the running lights and air conditioning compressors fired back up in our now four-car train. The smokers got the 5 minute warning, and eventually we all boarded our respective cars for the dark ride southwest into the Columbia River gorge. This, my only visit to the city of Spokane, Washington.

Click to see the Spokane Amtrak station plotted on a Google Maps page
d2_spokane2a d2_spokane2b d2_spokane2c d2_spokane2d
d2_spokane3a d2_spokane3b d2_spokane3c
all photos above at Spokane, Wa / Jun 2016 / RWH

Day 3 - Washington, Oregon


Spotlight: Portland Union Station


Portland Union Station was constructed in 1896 and has been in continuous operation since that time. Originally constructed as part of the Northwest Pacific Terminal Company, it was owned jointly by the Northern Pacific, Union Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads. The centerpiece of the Romanesque and Queen Anne architecture is the 150-foot clock tower with its four-sided Seth Thomas clock that makes this landmark easily distinguishable. By 1922, every railroad passenger train serving Portland utilized Union Station. Today, Portland Union Station is situated in an area that boasts a variety of businesses and attractions which makes it an excellent arrival/departure point for people interested in the “'The City of Roses.” Portland Union Station was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

Great American Stations

Click to see Portland Union Station plotted on a Google Maps page
Read more about the Portland Union Station

Links / Sources

This page was updated on 2016-07-14